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Man released from prison after 18 years behind bars for murder he says he didn’t commit

By KMBC News Staff

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    Missouri (KMBC) — For the first time in 18 years, Keith Carnes is breathing fresh air as a free man.

Carnes was released from prison Monday after 18 years behind bars for the 2003 murder of Larry White, a murder he says he did not commit.

The prosecutor’s office in Jackson County, Missouri, dismissed all charges against Carnes on Friday. That decision came after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled last week that Carnes be released within 30 days pending a potential retrial.

That retrial will not happen.

In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said: “Our review of the evidence does not establish that Carnes is actually innocent; however, because the evidence is also insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot retry Carnes.”

In the Missouri Supreme Court order, authorities said: “The Court concludes the petitioner, Keith Carnes, has met the burden of proof necessary to establish his “gateway cause and prejudice’ claim that the state failed to disclose material evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963 ). Mr. Carnes, therefore, is entitled to habeas corpus relief,” the Missouri Supreme Court said in its ruling Tuesday.

Carnes had been serving a life sentence at South Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri.

While the prosecutor’s office said Friday that they would decline to retry the 2003 murder case in which Carnes had been convicted, Carnes remained in prison over the weekend unsure of what would come next.

Carnes’ mother, Eve Moffatt, said Saturday his family and legal team were frustrated.

“Just to see him like that, in handcuffs and to see him in that place,” Moffatt said.

The following is the full statement from the prosecutor’s office:

“On April 5, 2022, after hearings handled by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, the Missouri Supreme Court set aside the convictions of Keith Carnes on the basis of a Brady violation committed when an eyewitness’ account was not disclosed to defense. We fully accept the Supreme Court’s finding. The Court denied Carnes claim of actual innocence but directed the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office to decide whether to retry Carnes for the 2003 murder of Larry White. Our review of the evidence does not establish that Carnes is actually innocent; however, because the evidence is also insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot retry Carnes.

“Testimony at trial and in the special master’s hearing establish that Carnes was a rival drug dealer in and around 29th and Olive and that Larry White was attempting to sell in that territory. Carnes was present the night of the homicide. Carnes case cannot be tried a third time on currently available evidence because of shifting witness accounts due to pressure from Carnes’ private investigator with whom Carnes was romantically involved. Eyewitness testimony is thrown into question with recantations, including a recantation of a recantation. We also do not have physical evidence to corroborate certain eyewitness accounts.

“Every criminal investigation should be neutral and objective, by police and private investigators. In the efforts to free Carnes, some of the evidence was gathered and presented by Carnes’ romantic partner. She sought recantations and additional witness testimony that contradicted the evidence at the first and second trials. Witnesses alleged that Carnes’ private investigator pressured them to recant or change their trial testimony. If police investigators engaged in such improper conduct, it would require immediate disclosure and conflict procedures to protect the integrity of the investigation. This rule does not apply just to police and credible organizations, like the Midwest Innocence Project, which would not allow such bias as part of an investigation. In short, the evidence today in Carnes case is tainted from all directions. We cannot proceed and must dismiss the charges.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Brady violation stemmed from a witness who testified at Carnes’ trial. Carnes’ attorneys were not provided her first statement and therefore could not cross-examine her about it. We agree that this violated Carnes’ right to a fair trial. Jackson County takes this finding with the utmost seriousness. The Special Master found that there was no prosecutorial misconduct. Discovery practices have changed substantially since 2003. Though the process has greatly improved, we are also building a new electronic system or bridge between our office and KCPD to ensure that all reports are transferred.

“This dismissal is without prejudice and there is no statute of limitations for murder. Because Carnes is speaking to news media, we would ask that he speak with law enforcement about what he knows. Witnesses stated that a second culprit was present at Mr. White’s murder. We’d like to know that person’s identity. This case remains under investigation. We will continue to fight for justice for Mr. White and this community.

“Our office met Friday with the family of Larry White. His sister, Juanita White, thanked Jackson County for seeking justice on her family’s behalf. For her health, she said she will leave anything further to God, although her family believes that Carnes was one of the men who killed her brother. Larry White’s family is planning a celebration of their deceased brother’s birthday next week.”

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